YOUNG people thinking of leaving Ireland to find work “have a future in this country”, according to Taoiseach Brian Cowen, despite emigration reaching its highest level in 20 years.
Mr Cowen attempted to send out a message of hope after a meeting in which he “challenged” the heads of 11 state agencies involved in job creation to set more ambitious targets to get people back to work.
Fine Gael dismissed the meeting as a publicity stunt which came two years too late. “To quote Elvis Presley, a little less conversation a little more action please,” said enterprise spokesman Richard Bruton.
But Mr Cowen insisted the jobs summit, involving Enterprise Ireland, Fás, Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland, would bring a “sharp focus” to job creation following the release of figures showing 65,000 emigrated in the year up to April.
In a message to these people, Mr Cowen said: “My advice is to say: There is a future for us here in this country; we’re on the road to recovery.”
He said the Government “will maximise the options for them here at home and there may be opportunities abroad that they want to take up at this time as well, that’s a matter for individual choice hopefully, rather than involuntary choice”.
But speaking as he visited “freshers’ week” in Trinity College, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said: “Since he became Taoiseach, almost 250,000 extra people are on the unemployed register and 100,000 gone away. I’m glad that at long last the Taoiseach of the country recognises there is a job crisis.”
Mr Bruton added: “People will be forgiven for thinking that this is about turning a week of bad publicity for the Taoiseach into something a bit more positive.”
But Mr Cowen said yesterday’s meeting had been scheduled since the start of the summer, and that he regularly meets with these groups, just not all at the same time. “The opposition are predictably dismissive of everything because they don’t have much to say it seems,” he said.
During the meeting, Enterprise Ireland claimed over 70% of exports lost in 2009 will be recovered this year.
Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe said the Government’s jobs strategy would be “focused, targeted and will have an end objective to create sustainable jobs”.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the meeting would be judged on whether there are early results on job creation.
“If today’s meeting represents a refocusing of government attention on the unemployment crisis then that will be a positive development. The first national objective must be jobs.
“We have had similar initiatives in the past that have come to nothing, such as the much-promoted launch of the High Level Group on Employment at the end of 2008.
“This met only once before being subsumed into yet another cabinet committee,” he said.
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